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About CSP

Statement of Purpose

The Council on Spiritual Practices is a collaboration among spiritual guides, experts in the behavioral and biomedical sciences, and scholars of religion, dedicated to making direct experience of the sacred more available to more people. There is evidence that such encounters can have profound benefits for those who experience them, for their neighbors, and for the world.

CSP has a twofold mission: to identify and develop approaches to primary religious experience that can be used safely and effectively, and to help individuals and spiritual communities bring the insights, grace, and joy that arise from direct perception of the divine into their daily lives.

The Council on Spiritual Practices has no doctrine or liturgy of its own.

CSP - Results to date

CSP's efforts and those of Prof. Roland Griffiths at the Johns Hopkins Medical School lead to the formation of a controlled study, conducted by Hopkins and CSP staff, of the psychological and spiritual effects of psilocybin in healthy volunteers. The findings from that research, published in 2006 and in 2008, received media coverage around the world. Further research published in 2011 confirmed the earlier findings and presented new data on the relationship between the amount of psilocybin used and its effects.

This expands the emphasis in hallucinogen research beyond the medical treatment of ill people to include the betterment of well people, contributing to a science of pro-social development.

A spiritual practices study, started in 2009, is exploring the effects of psilocybin, mystical-type experience, and spiritual practices such as mediatation in persons committed to spiritual development.

CSP developed and published in 1995 a Code of Ethics for Spiritual Guides. As of 2011, google reports more than 3,000 references to it, including translations and derivative works.

The CSP Entheogen Project Series includes several books and the Entheogen Chrestomathy. As part of the series, Huston Smith gathered his essays on the enthogens into a single volume, Cleansing the Doors of Perception, which CSP published in a special edition matching Gordon Wasson's landmark works.

Occasionally, CSP has been asked to enter its network's expertise into civic matters. This has included an amicus brief (2005) for the Supreme Court of the United States. The Court's unanimous (8-0) decision in that case affirmed a position CSP presented a decade earlier in invited testimony (1995) before the New York City Bar Association.

CSP has granted 14 CSP William James Awards to support graduate students conducting master's- and doctoral-level research into primary religious experience at universities across the U.S. and abroad.

In 2004, CSP and the UCLA Working Group on Awe-Inspiring Experiences produced a public conference and a concurrent research retreat titled Awe to Action, with support from the Metanexus Institute and the Templeton Foundation. At the research retreat, scientists from several universities met to develop new empirical research into primary religious experience (awe), spiritual transformation, and the development of prosocial values and behaviors, such as forgiveness, generosity, and altruism.


For notable reflections on CSP's work, see Contributions are needed and appreciated. Please make checks payable to:

San Francisco Foundation, CSP Fund, #4745

and send to:

The San Francisco Foundation, CSP Fund
225 Bush Street, Suite 500
San Francisco, CA 94104
Thank you for your support. Your gifts to the CSP Fund are fully tax-deductible. For gifts of stock, see here.

CSP's History

CSP was covened in 1993 and organized in 1994 by Bob Jesse. Its directors and advisors have included Ken Barnes, M.Div, Brad Bunnin, J.D., M.Div., Craig Comstock, Willis Harman, Ph.D., Robert Jesse, Chris-Ellyn Johanson, Ph.D., Robert King, M.Div, Ph.D., Victoria MacDonald, M.Div, Thomas Roberts, Ph.D., Charles Schuster, Ph.D., Huston Smith, Ph.D., Kenneth Smith, M.Div, D.D., David Steindl-Rast, Ph.D., O.S.B., Charles Tart, Ph.D., and David Wilson, J.D., M.D.

CSP's Williams James Awards Committee, chaired by Ralph W. Hood, Jr., Ph.D. (University of Tennessee at Chattanooga), has also included William A. Richards, Ph.D. (Council on Spiritual Practices), Michael Winkelman, Ph.D. (Arizona State University), and David M. Wulff, Ph.D. (Wheaton College).

CSP has organized several conferences and working meetings with scholars and researchers from the Johns Hopkins University, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of California at Los Angeles, the University of California San Francisco, the University of Chicago, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Toronto, the University of Tennessee, Wayne State University, and the Chicago Theological Seminary.


1. Profound experiences of unity with the cosmos – called, variously, non-dual consciousness, mystical experiences, unitive experiences, awe-inspiring experiences, or primary religious experiences – sometimes lead to lasting, and lastingly beneficial, changes in values and behavior. Some of them (Moses at the Burning Bush, the Buddha under the Bodhi tree, Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus, Bill Wilson in Towns Hospital) are not only life-changing but world-changing.

2. Not much is known about how frequent such experiences are, what triggers them, what sorts of people are most likely to experience them, and what conditions increase the probability that altered states will lead to beneficially altered traits.

3. Many different activities – prayer, meditation, chanting, fasting, and dancing among them – have been used with the intention of preparing for such experiences or for occasioning them. Among such activities, the use of certain plants and chemicals is one of the least demanding in terms of time and among the most likely to bring about a strong experience on any given occasion.

4. There is some evidence that the nature of the subjective mystical experience is largely independent of the occasioning mechanism.

5. There is traditional wisdom and logic (but nothing like adequate empirical evidence) behind the notion that the existence of a social "vessel" to contain the experience – a group of people with some shared understanding of what the experience means and what is to be done with it – increases the chances that a given experience will lead to lasting benefit. Likewise for engagement in suitable ongoing spiritual practices, such as meditation.

These observations lead us to believe that increasing the number of people who undergo mystical-type experiences under suitable conditions would tend to increase the amount of prosocial behavior in the world. CSP pursues this goal by catalyzing research to develop a better scientific knowledge of the phenomena and their consequences, by working to create social understandings that would make seeking out primary experiences seem less unusual than it now does to most westerners, and by trying to imagine, and encouraging others to imagine, social contexts that would serve as appropriate vessels.

About CSP, Support CSP
Purpose, Results, Contributions

International CONFERENCE
April 18-23 2013

The Mystical Core
of Organized Religion